Being a Fan is About Heart, not Hometown
Two snowmobiles pulled into the gas station as we came out of the coffee shop. Nobody batted an eye as their riders took turns filling the tanks while cars waited patiently behind them. Well, almost nobody. The woman from New York City raised her eyebrows quizzically.
We were in Nova Scotia, my wife and I. We had brought our son to my childhood stomping grounds in the Annapolis Valley for his first Christmas. I had brought us to the local Tim Horton’s coffee shop to experience a bit of Canadiana. The skidoos were the cherry on top of an ubiquitous sundae of the nation’s rural culture.
“You’re from Nova Scotia? How can YOU be a Yankee fan? You ain’t no real fan. You don’t know nothin’!”
One wouldn’t expect to find New York Yankee fans in such a locale as this. Especially during the winter. When it comes to sports, when you say “Canada” you are answered with “hockey.” As you should be. Especially in Nova Scotia, where Windsor is widely acknowledged as it’s birthplace.
Hockey is King. Television coverage lives and breathes the sport. The World Junior Hockey Championships take center stage over the holidays. All talk mainly revolves around Team Canada. Hats and jerseys for the squad are everywhere.
Add to this the World Under-17 Championships, taking place right in Nova Scotia; the Spengler Cup in Europe; the NHL Heritage Classic outdoor game, which would set an attendance record for the sport; and a much hyped Original Six matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Rangers on the most holy of Canadian programs, Hockey Night in Canada, and baseball almost never gets a mention.
“You don’t know nothin’ about baseball. All you know is hockey, right?”
And yet baseball isn’t that hard to find. Canada has a quietly proud pedigree on the diamond. Jackie Robinson played in Montreal before coming to Brooklyn. Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run in Toronto. Ferguson Jenkins. Larry Walker. Justin Morneau. Russell Martin. Joey Votto.
Baseball Nova Scotia is active year round and gives many kids the opportunity to play the game competitively all over North America. It has yet to produce the same caliber superstars as the province has done for hockey, but the passion for baseball is very real. Nova Scotia is small but it’s heart is very big.
Baseball is on television in Canada every day. The Blue Jays get national coverage, as did the Montreal Expos at one time. Even now, with the frenzy for hockey at it’s thickest, sports stations play classic MLB games in the afternoon. Like the 1977 Yankees World Series. Even after all these years, Reggie Jackson gives you chills.
Leave it to Mr. October to casually take center stage during a hockey mad week in a hockey mad country.
“Get a load of this guy! Yeah you might look the part, kid, but you ain’t a real fan. You’re just dressed the part.”
The fields where my father and I often had catches are covered with snow. Instead he pulls my son through them in a new sled. Biting cold Nova Scotian winters prevents baseball from gaining greater prevalence. But baseball is a game about heart. If you have the heart, it doesn’t matter what season it is. It doesn’t matter where you come from.
I inherited my love of baseball, and my love for the Yankees. Too old to play hockey well now, I can still catch and throw.
And every now and again I can still see the ball just right, and make it go far away.
That satisfying smack. That feeling. You know the one, it says that you don’t have to run. There is nothing else like it. Your heart leaps and then glows.
Baseball fans are all over Canada. They have been here for generations, and Nova Scotia is no different. The province is just far enough away, just secluded enough, to have no real MLB home team. The argument could be made for the Blue Jays, and their ball caps do dot the population here and there, but they aren’t all you see. The Montreal Expos are still popular. The Pittsburgh Pirates are here, the old pillboxes popping up from time to time.
And the Yankees have a presence too.
The last time I saw my grandfather before leaving for New York City he asked me to send him a Yankee hat from the Stadium. He played ball as a young man. The game was in his blood too. In his heart.
I have cheered for the Yankees all of my life. Because it was common in Nova Scotia for everyone to have their own favorite team, it was natural that everyone got along well regardless of who their team was. Good natured teasing, but nothing nasty. Favorite teams normally were affiliated to your family, not your hometown. You wore your heart on your sleeve when you flew your colors.
“You gotta be kidding me! I’m surprised your hat ain’t pink!”
During that first trip to the Stadium, I told the wrong guy where I was from. He razzed me relentlessly. According to him, I was a poser. Not authentic. You know his type, every fan-base has guys like him. The louts. The boors. The bullies. Guys like this are who Yankee haters trot out to illustrate that Bombers fans are jerks. You expect treatment like that in Fenway, not at The Stadium.
Of the two of us, he was not the one who waited patiently for twenty years to make their long pilgrimage to the House that Ruth Built. He was mocking a fellow fan, a completely new concept to me. What kind of family was he from? He did not represent the Yankees to me. You need class, at the very least, to wear these Pinstripes right. You need heart.
Heart is not determined by geography. Location is unimportant next to passion. Those from New York are not all necessarily Yankee fans, so therefore Yankee fans do not all necessarily come from New York.
How else do you explain Mets fans?
If you put down another Yankee fan simply because they don’t come from New York, then you are the one who is not authentic. If a heart beats Yankee Blue, then that heart can be from anywhere. If that fan has waited all their life for this game, and has travelled from far away, then they have just as much, if not more heart, than you. Mocking them for not being from your neighborhood is… well… Heartless.
Since that day, I've put in extra efforts put into making out of town fans feel welcome. The guy with the Yankee hat who can barely speak English gets a smile and a handshake. Anyone in Yankees gear with a map and a lost look about them gets helped out. You don’t know their story, but they have come to New York to be part of the family. They should be treated with respect.
And if they’re from Boston wearing Yankees jerseys? Buy them beer.
Nova Scotia made its bones on the sea. Fishing. Shipping. And back in the day, maritime racing. The most famous ship in all of Canada, let alone Nova Scotia, was the schooner named “The Bluenose.” Its picture is on the dime. It won so many championships, it made Nova Scotia the King of its day. Even now, Nova Scotians are known as “Bluenosers.” They are famous for traveling far and wide, and for their hospitality.
So I take this opportunity to reach out to our extended Yankees family members, wherever you are. You are all welcome in New York City. Someday, perhaps, you could even attend a game with a Bleeding Yankee Bluenoser.
A version of this story was previously published on Bleeding Yankee Blue.
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